Reflecting back one year after studying abroad, I am excited to write more about my travels this year and hopefully take off on more adventures soon! London was such a huge part of my study abroad experience, which is why I’ve decided to write more about one of my favorite cities.
Harlaxton Manor was less than a two hour train ride north of London, so I was making visits to the city often. You can find all of my posts about London here, but I also wanted to compile my experiences into one big Top Ten list. The following items include ten of my favorite locations, markets, restaurants, etc. I included everything from the touristy items to the hidden neighborhoods of London!
1. Big Ben
Duh. I couldn’t not include this one. Seeing Big Ben is a must if you visit London, and I decided to put this item first on my list so I could talk about my favorite photo spot to snag a selfie with the clock tower –
(*warning* top secret London travel tip below…)
At the corner of Parliament Street and Great George Street, you’ll find a telephone booth (another London-photo-must) with the perfect angle and view to get Big Ben in the background. If you’re lucky, the line will be short, and you can also get a view of Westminister and The Eye from this street. Finding this sweet spot is a must!
2. The Eye
Speaking of The Eye, just do it. Let me start by saying that I am absolutely. terrified. of. heights. I don’t even like looking over the railing up one flight of stairs. I almost bailed when my family wanted to take a ride up in The Eye, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
The incredible views of London and the photo opportunities are worth every penny (and the anxiousness). The ride lasts about 30 minutes, and you can book and plan your trip online. From what I understand, standard entry tickets are usually available the day-of, so you don’t need a ton of advance planning. Unless you plan to splurge for one of the VIP experiences, which can include a glass of champagne or even a private ride!
3. Hyde Park
No matter what time of the year, Hyde Park is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon in London. Located in the middle of London, it’s sandwiched by the Kensington to the west and the river to the east.
Whether it’s a walk through the park to get from one side of town to another or taking a morning jog, the huge park offers so much to do and see. I took a morning jog or walk almost every day when I was in London with my family, and explored a different area of the park each time. Even more is offered in the summer, when you can take boat rides, go for a bike ride, attempt horseback riding, and more.
4. Kensington (& My Favorite Restaurant!)
The Kensington district is located on the west side of London, and is honestly one of my favorite. When you think of picturesque, quintessential London, you picture Kensington. Filled with lush gardens, beautiful churches, and upscale white houses side-by-side, you’ll feel like you’re in the movie Parent Trap or Notting Hill.
Thankfully, my favorite restaurant in all of London is also located in Kensington. Stop by Ffiona’s is one of the oldest, most delicious, family-run restaurants in London. They are open weekdays for brunch and weekends for dinner. You cannot find a more perfect place to have a delicious traditional English breakfast.
I could go on and on about the amazing neighborhood markets scattered throughout London. For my top ten list, I decided I’d write about the three markets that I visited the most on my trips to London.
First, Borough Market. Located just south of the London Bridge over the River Thames, Borough is London’s most well-known food market. Whether you’re wanting fresh food for cooking or a quick bit to eat, Borough Market has so many unique vendors to visit.
Next, Camden Market. Camden is in North London located in such a cool, unique neighborhood. During the day, the streets are lined with vendors selling t-shirts, street food, souvenirs, and more. At night, the street performers disappear and one can discover a neighborhood of eclectic restaurants and bars. And while you’re there, you have to stop by the famous Chin Chin Labs creamery (just plan some time to wait in line!).
Lastly, Spitalfields. If you’re looking for a place to go thrifting or find some unique clothing, Spitalfields is the place to go. Lots of arts, crafts, and thrifty finds can be found here. Keep your eye out in the area and you might even find a Banksy or two around the corner – keep reading and I’ll tell you more about how to find them 😉
6. Tower of London
The Tower of London was easily one of the coolest museums I visited in London. History can be found around every street corner in London, but there is so much history in this one tower. Ghost stories, murders, cursed ravens, and more. Not to mention fun photo ops with the guards or black phone booths, and of course the London bridge. My favorite part of the museum was seeing the Crown Jewel collection and learning about Royal history, I’m such a history nerd!
7. Tate Art Museum
Being an ex-art minor, this was another one of my favorites (no hard feelings, art, you just didn’t fit into my schedule after I chose Spanish).
If you like art, this is the first place I’d recommend in London. My favorite part was seeing the Warhols, but the museum also has constantly-changing interactive exhibits too. I wish I could’ve spent an entire day here!
If you’re looking for some off-the-beaten-path art, you can also check out the Banksy pieces located around London. Like I mentioned above, my family and I saw a few when we were exploring some of the markets. If you are interested in going on your own hunt, I found an article written by one of my favorite travel bloggers that can tell you a bit more about where to go!
8. Covent Garden & Neal’s Yard
Covent Garden is one of my favorite shopping areas in London. It’s one of the more well-known areas, packed with name-brands and restaurants. I liked it because it was still a little eclectic and not as crowded or busy as son of the other areas, like Oxford Street (see below).
If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend stopping for a treat at Milk Train or Laduree. If you don’t know what these places are- first of all, I’m sorry, second, read here.
My favorite place in Covent Garden though, is Neal’s Yard. Neal’s Yard is the definition of a hidden gem. It is literally a tiny, colorful little courtyard, tucked in between a square of buildings in the middle of Covent Garden. Almost like you’ve gone down the rabbit hole. Here, you can find a select few shops and cafes available for a hideaway afternoon in London.
I had read about this hidden garden on Pinterest, but one of my favorite bloggers has graciously described exactly how to find Neal’s Yard. (If you can’t tell, I’m a bit directionally challenged. I blame my mom, lol).
9. King’s Cross and Warner Bros Studios
Calling all Harry Potter fans!
Please excuse me while I nerd-out for a second. If you are even the slightest Harry Potter fan, you have to stop by King’s Cross station and find platform 9 and 3/4. In case you didn’t know, King’s Cross is an actual train station in London, actually one of their biggest. And platform 9 and 3/4 is located on the main floor, it is literally between platforms 9 and 10. However, you really can’t miss it, because there is a giant storefront and probably a decent line to get your picture taken at the platform.
If you have a good amount of time, I highly recommend waiting in line for a picture. Pictures are completely free to the public, you can even use your own phone. Attendants are there with scarves, props, and will tell you exactly when you jump to get the perfect “running” picture.
And if you really want to nerd out, stop by the gift shop afterwards. But wait! There’s more! If you’re an even bigger fan, like myself, you have to look into the HP Warner Bros Studio Tour. Talk about nerd-ing out. I could ramble on for a while, but the tour is basically 3 to 5 hours of discovering the making of Harry Potter, complete with full sets, real props, and more. Stay tuned, because I will probably need to write a separate Harry Potter blog post. Sorry not sorry.
10. Oxford Street
Last but not least, Oxford Street. If shopping is always on your travel to-do list, Oxford Street is the place to go. With over one mile of stores, you’ll find anything from name brands to small London favorites. If you’re looking for some different places to stop, I thought I’d list a few of my favorites in the Oxford Street area.
T2 is one of the neatest places I stopped in London. T2 is a tea store, complete with the prettiest tea sets you’ve ever seen and what seemed like hundreds of different kinds of loose tea. When in England, right?
Primark was one of my favorite stores while I was abroad. Think of it as the UK’s version of Forever 21 or H&M. Cheap and affordable clothes, with UK style. When I was abroad and basically living out of a suitcase, it was nice to be able to buy a few cheaper pieces.
Pull and Bear, another one of my favorite European chain stores. Again, very reasonably priced clothes but so cute! I remember visiting a Pull and Bear when I was in a few other European countries too.
The last store I’ll talk about it Paperchase. Basically a paper goods store, Paperchase was a cute places to go for souvenirs, gifts, or other fun little trinkets.
Of course, I know there is much more exploring to be done. There always is. On my next visit to London, some of my to-do’s include touring Westminister Abbey, having a fancy high tea, seeing a show at the theater, and more. Click here to see my full London bucket list, including where I’ve been and where I want to go next!
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